Over the past several weeks, I have received numerous questions surrounding software selection and licensing. Therefore, I feel compelled to spend the next few weeks demystifying this entity we refer to as “software.” This will be accomplished to the extent that we get the solution we need, how and when we need it, as well as including some of the common ‘gotchas’ associated with acquiring software.
It is impossible to make it through a single day without using some type of software or even being the beneficiary of it. Software is such a part of our daily life whether we see it or not. It starts with the electricity and running of water which makes its way into our homes, the alarm clock in the morning, the cars we drive, elevators we ride, and even into the production and storage of the food we eat. But what is software? The term ‘software’ first made its presence into the English language in 1958. Since then it has become a widely used term, but the definition is somewhat illusive. Merriam-Webster defines it as: “the entire set of programs, procedures, and related documentation associated with a system and especially a computer system; contrasted with hardware.” While other dictionaries define it as anything from “not hardware” to “a codified set of commands that direct microprocessors to perform certain functions”, what ever the real meaning is. Software makes things in our lives work, be it phones or electricity; we have conveniences because of software.
During the first thirty years of its life, software meant ‘you get what you get and you can’t throw a fit!’ Because for a long time people lived with the reality that any automation was better than none at all since the manual approach was much more difficult. However, as benefits of software were recognized more people entered the software development field, which resulted in new and innovative technologies being produced; ultimately making their way to market. The market turned into a ‘you get what you want’ arena; but at a price. This ‘having it my way’ fed the software production engine more and more fuel through the 1980’s to today. The resounding theme through all of this expansion was, you have to pay for what you want. As each product offered different strengths, one would have to choose the product that met the highest number of their functionality need; then put out the money. They often paid the price for functionalities they didn’t need or even want, simply because that was how the product was packaged.
From the late 1960’s the costs of purchasing (licensing) software was very subjective, with a common theme of ‘expensive’. Essentially software companies were on the pharmaceutical model, recoup all the R&D costs per unit sold. Sometimes their model was flawed and the company went broke, other times the model was profitable and the company flourished. As more firms caught on, the competitive pressures clarified the model and produced other options for recouping the R&D costs.
Today there are a plethora of options to get the needed functionality you need at the ‘right’ price. Following are a few of the most popular models.
The Classical Model has the user paying a lump some amount of money for the software package. This package would often include other components that the user may or may not want. Sometimes in this model there are additional fees, such as support and maintenance. If it is consumer software, the price on the package is the price you pay. However, if it is enterprise software, the book price is the starting point for negotiation.
A progressive variant of the Classical Model is known as the SaaS Model. The acronym stands for Software as a Service. Here the user only pays for the use of the software when and if they need it. This model began gaining popularity after Microsoft launched the SaaS model in 2000 for its Office Suite of products. This allowed organizations to ‘rent’ software applications on an as needed basis; the savings were phenomenal! No longer did firms need to buy (license) the entire suite of Office Professional, they could, a la carte, satisfy their users needs.
In the early 20th century, there was a rise of the Free Culture and the Open Source Culture. The Free Culture created the concepts of Freeware, Shareware and Public Domain software to the world. The Free Culture was, and continues to be, a hard core group of software engineers who, through different motivations, goal is to put solutions into the world. Freeware tends to provide specific functionality, such as converting MS Word documents into another format, and is made available to the public for a voluntary fee. Shareware is a little more advanced than Freeware in that it has limited capability and is offered on trial, where the full version can be purchased at any time. Public domain software is completely free for anyone to use, however they want.
It was the Free Culture and the Public Domain movement that gave rise to the Open Source Model. In this model, software is provided free or at a nominal charge to the public, more often than not, under a licensing agreement, however, the user has access to the ‘software code’ which allows them to make changes to the software. With the Open Source Model, the user can now add functionality that they specifically need. Until this point, adding ‘your own’ functionality never existed. Another progressive thought introduced with Open Source was that newly added functionality must be returned to the public domain, where everyone can enjoy the new functionalities. According to the Law & Life: Silicon Valley blog posting of April 4, 2008; by 2012, 90% of businesses will use the Open Source Model in some capacity.
In addition to the diversity of software features available one must recognize there is also diversity in getting what you need. Over the coming weeks, the journey of selecting YOUR software solution and how to acquire YOUR solution will be addressed. Recognize that your working environment isn’t rigid any more; you have options! The classical model often binds you to a ‘packaged solution, the SaaS model allows you get ‘what you need, when you need it’ for a fee, while the Free Culture presents the low or no cost alternatives. With that said your email needn’t originate from within a suite of products; it could be used ‘as and when needed’ or can be the Java Open (Source) Office completely free solution.
I am glad I can have my mocha java latte, with cinnamon!